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Review: The Hunger Games
Categories: movies

It’s not often a film comes along that captures the mood of our time, and touches enough of a raw nerve to cause controversy – that’s especially so when it’s a filmed aimed at teens. Once coveted as a popular series of books, The Hunger Games has now gone on global release in the cinema and is every inch the blockbuster.

The plot is brutal, every year two teenagers from 12 district of a futuristic America are chosen to compete in survival game over a two week period which all citizens must be watch by law. This is not really a contest, it’s a fight to the death which will end with only one of them alive. So while The Hunger Games has taken the combatants of the Roman amphitheatre as its theme, a grotesque pastiche of reality TV is at its heart. While it ticks all the right ‘youth boxes’ – it has a female protagonist who is not short of magnamity, looks, admirers and personal angst – for older viewers (like me) the opening scenes draw a stark comparison with the deathcamps of World War II and there’s more than a nod or two to Lord of the Flies and 1984.

Have a look at the clip here for a taster and more on the film at imdb.  More about the film, the glossary of the jargon and the cast list are below the trailer.


War. Terrible war. Widows… Orphans… A motherless child… This was the uprising that rocked our land.

13 Districts rebelled against the country that fed them… loved them… protected them…

Brother turned on brother until nothing remained.

And then came the peace… Hard fought… Sorely won. A people rose up from the ashes. And a new era was born.

But freedom has a cost… When the traitors were defeated, we swore as a nation we would never know this treason again…

And so it was decreed that each year, the various districts of Panem would offer up in tribute one young man and woman, to fight to the death in a pageant of honor, courage, and sacrifice.

The lone victor, bathed in riches, would serve as a reminder of our generosity and our forgiveness.

 This is how we remember our past.

This is how we safeguard our future.


Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games.  A twisted punishment for a past uprising and an ongoing government intimidation tactic, The Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which “Tributes” must fight with one another until one survivor remains.

Sixteen year old Katniss Everdeen volunteers in her younger sister’s place to enter the games, and is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy when she’s pitted against highly-trained Tributes who have prepared for these Games their entire lives.  If she’s ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

THE HUNGER GAMES is directed by Gary Ross, with a screenplay by Gary Ross and Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray, and produced by Nina Jacobson’s Color Force in tandem with producer Jon Kilik.  Suzanne Collins’ best-selling novel, the first in a trilogy published by Scholastic that has over 26 million copies in print in the United States alone, has developed a massive global following. It has spent more than 180 consecutive weeks/more than three consecutive years to date on The New York Times bestseller list since its publication in September 2008, and has also appeared consistently on USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists.


“The only thing stronger than fear is hope.”

– President Coriolanus Snow, THE HUNGER GAMES

In the ruins of the land formerly known as North America, the annual Hunger Games are about to get under way – and 16-year-old contender Katniss Everdeen has only the remotest chance of beating the fearsome odds.  Like most of the nation of Panem, Katniss lives in one of twelve enslaved districts, ruled over by a mystery-shrouded Capitol, which after decades of chaos and war, now suppresses the people under the thumb of a harsh yet decadent dictatorship.  Every year, on Reaping Day, each of the districts must choose, by lottery or volunteer, one boy and one girl to represent them in the Capitol’s twisted idea of grand entertainment that proves its total control, while also giving the famished populace the faintest ray of hope to hang onto.  These are the Hunger Games — an intense gladiatorial competition between 24 adolescent warriors known as Tributes, broadcast live on TV until only one survivor remains . . . and once Katniss is entered there is no turning back.

On this day, in District 12, the unthinkable happens – Katniss’ little sister, Primrose, whom Katniss has helped to feed and care for much of her life, is chosen for the Games.  In a brave, self-sacrificing move that she knows might seal her fate, Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place. Instantly, she and her new co-Tribute, the baker’s son Peeta Mellark, are taken into custody, whisked to the Capitol, thrown into glamorous makeovers and grueling training, readying themselves to be pitted against the ruthless “Career Tributes,” who hail from the wealthier districts and have prepared for these Games their entire lives.  In the days to come, under the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy, Katniss will sharpen her instincts, hone her archery skills and focus her growing strength and will on what seems to be the task at hand:  stay alive at all costs.

THE HUNGER GAMES is directed by Gary Ross, with a screenplay by Ross and Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray, and produced by Nina Jacobson’s Color Force in tandem with producer Jon Kilik.  The executive producers are Robin Bissell, Collins and Louise Rosner-Meyer.  The film stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Wes Bentley, Toby Jones, Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman, Amandla Sternberg, with Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland.


Welcome to the intense reality of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who must try to survive – by sheer wits and will alone – a future world that is at once high-tech and apocalyptic, glitzy and primal, unsettlingly dangerous and a telltale mirror to our own.  Unfolding entirely through Katniss’ intimately personal POV, THE HUNGER GAMES reveals how this miner’s daughter from a dark future transforms from a mere pawn in a lethal televised contest to a soulful, sacrificing heroine who comes to realize that she has even more to protect and fight for than her own family.

Author Collins was not afraid to take Katniss into risky terrain, because she knew teens were already grappling with these questions in the world around them.  In her book proposal for the series, Collins wrote:  “Although set in the future, THE HUNGER GAMES explores disturbing issues of modern warfare such as who fights our wars, how they are orchestrated, and the ever-increasing opportunities to observe them being played out.” Yet she also balanced that with Katniss’ growth and evolution into someone as courageous and principled as she is stubbornly tenacious.  She noted that Katniss, though initially “distrustful,” takes from this adventure “a deep capacity to love and sacrifice for those few people she cares for.”


Gary Ross first witnessed the impact of THE HUNGER GAMES and Katniss Everdeen on his own children. “I’d heard people raving about THE HUNGER GAMES and when I asked my kids about it, they kind of exploded and started going on and on until I had to stop them from telling me the whole story,” he recalls.  “Their enthusiasm was so infectious, I went upstairs, started reading, and by 1:30 a.m., I said ‘I have to make this movie.’  It was that impulsive.”

Right away, Ross had an unwavering vision of what lay at the heart of THE HUNGER GAMES’ appeal.  “My mind was clear from the beginning,” he says.  “I saw there was something really beautiful happening underneath the story.  It’s obviously a viscerally exciting tale of survival within a lurid spectacle of the future.  But I think what really compels people to pass the book from one person to the next is that it is at bottom about one girl, Katniss Everdeen, finding her own humanity.  She begins as someone who only wants to fight for herself, for her personal survival – yet what she finds in the course of the Games is something more important than even staying alive.  Her heart opens and she becomes someone who’s willing to sacrifice for something bigger. “


In District 12:

Katniss:  The Tribute who becomes a heroine when she volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games

Gale:  Katniss’ fellow hunter, rebel and best friend, who is heartbroken when she volunteers and departs for the Games

Peeta:  The male Tribute from District 12, who has long harbored secret feelings for Katniss

Katniss’ Hunger Games Team:

Haymitch: Victor of the 50th Hunger Games, now the rarely sober mentor for Katniss and Peeta

Effie:  Katniss’ elaborately-coiffed escort and PR handler for the Games

Cinna:  Katniss’ personal Stylist for the Games who becomes her unexpected confidante and supporter

Portia:  Peeta’s Stylist for the Games

Venia, Flavius and Octavia:  Katniss’ Prep Team for the Games

Key Tributes:

Marvel and Glimmer:  The ruthless, dangerously skilled Career Tributes from District 1

Cato and Clove:  Hailing from District 2, the two most fearsome Career Tributes in the Games

Foxface:  The female Tribute from District 5, whose smarts lead her to favor strategy over force

Rue:  The Games’ youngest Tribute from District 11, who becomes Katniss’ closest ally

Thresh:  The male Tribute from District 11

 The Capitol Powers:

President Snow:  The dictator of Panem who rules with his own brand of laid-back brutality

Seneca Crane:  The head Gamemaker, who created the 74th Hunger Games

Caesar Flickerman:  The official television interviewer for the Games

Claudius Templesmith: The infamous TV announcer of the Hunger Games


 Visual Design

As the cast began to prepare for their adventure in Panem, Gary Ross and his crew dove into bringing Suzanne Collin’s vision of the futuristic world they inhabit fully alive on screen. It all started with Ross’ photographic concept – to navigates Panem through the subjective experience of Katniss Everdeen, just as Collins had done on the page – which came to life in a collaboration with Oscar®-nominated director of photography Tom Stern (who recently shot Clint Eastwood’s J. EDGAR).

“One of the most important things to me and to Tom was to convey the immediacy and first person point-of-view that makes the book so irresistible,” says Ross.  “This meant shooting in an urgent, intensely personal way that I’ve always wanted to use, but has never suited the subject matter of films I’ve done before.”

This first-person POV would imbue every detail of the film and also become the cornerstone for the bold set pieces created by production designer Philip Messina, who found himself in the position of turning portions of modern-day North Carolina into futuristic District 12, the Capitol and the arena where the Games unfold.

Messina calls the look he and Ross established for the film “retro-futuristic.”   One of Messina’s first tasks was creating the Seam, the poorest area of impoverished, mining-focused District 12, where Katniss and her family live.  Shooting in an abandoned mill town in Henry River, North Carolina, he found a grouping of 1920s homes that closely matched the environment described by Collins in the book.

For Reaping Day in the town square of District 12, the production shot at an old cotton gin in Shelby, North Carolina, bringing in 400 extras for the shoot, as well as building the tracks for a train system that carries the district’s precious coal to the Capitol.

Another intensive project was creating The Hob, the derelict but teeming black market of District 12. “The Hob is the marketplace and souk of District 12,” describes Ross, “where Peacekeepers turn a blind eye. Phil brought to life an incredible marketplace where people sell all kinds of junk and things they’ve found on the way.  It really evokes the deprivation of the District.”

All of this contrasted in the extreme with Messina’s designs for the Capitol, which were primarily built in a former Phillip Morris factory.   The colors in the Capitol are a mix of icy and acid tones.  Shifting gears again, Messina designed the Games’ Training Center as a bastion of raw sweat and anxiety.  For the lush, perilous woods of the arena itself, Ross had something very specific in mind and he found it in a pristine conservation area in North Carolina.

The arena also contains one of the most challenging of all of Philip Messina’s designs:  the Cornucopia, a giant gold horn containing a cache of Panem’s hybrid weapons and valuable supplies that the Tributes must battle for as the Games kick off.  “I was a bit scared of how the Cornucopia was going to look, but in the end it is one of my favorite pieces in the whole movie – a huge, nasty sculptural horn in the middle of a field,” says Messina.  “We looked at Frank Gehry designs and a lot of modern architecture with folded planes and fractalized surfaces and kind of riffed on all of that.  It looks like it fell from the sky onto this field.”

# # #



History:   The nation of Panem arose from the ashes after apocalyptic events and a global war nearly destroyed life as it was known in North America.  Over time, 13 districts came under the rule of a despotic Capitol hanging on to the last vestiges of civilization.  Approximately 74 years before these Hunger Games, Panem experienced the so-called “Dark Days,” when the districts unleashed a deadly rebel war on the Capitol.  The Capitol regained control, obliterating the 13th district completely, and instituted the Hunger Games as a means of intimidating its citizens, lulling them with its unforgiving form of entertainment, and keeping the youth in line.

The Capitol:  Located in the area formerly known as the Rocky Mountains, the Capitol is both Panem’s central seat of government and a decadent realm of style, fashion and indulgence.  Those who live in the Capitol have their own lifestyle and are largely unaware of the suffering of those who live in the outlying districts.  The Capitol is also the home of Panem’s dictator, President Coriolanus Snow.

The Districts:   The twelve outer Districts of Panem are industrial centers serving the interests of the Capitol.  They vary in wealth and culture, but the iron fist of the dictatorship controls all.  No District citizen can visit the Capitol except to play in the Hunger Games.  District 1 manufactures luxury goods; District 2 is a gem mining and defense center; District 3 produces electronics; District 4 is dedicated to fisheries; District 5 is involved in science and research; District 6 develops transportation; District 7’s specialty is lumber; District 8 is the textile center; District 9 grows the nation’s grain; District 10 raises livestock; District 11 is focused on agriculture including vegetables and herbs; and District 12, located in the Appalachian Mountains, is the coal mining district that fuels the Capitol.

The Hunger Games:   An annual contest for the last 74 years, in which 24 Tributes ages 12 through 18 – one boy and one girl from each of Panem’s 12 districts – are forced to enter a themed arena contest in which they are forced to fight, until only one person remains.  The entire event is broadcast live and is mandatory viewing for the entire nation of Panem.

Tributes:   Tributes are aged twelve to eighteen years and chosen for the Hunger Games via lottery.  Tributes can also volunteer for the Games or volunteer in place of another person, as Katniss does for her younger sister Primrose.

Career Tributes:   Volunteers for the Games from the richer districts, who have been training their whole lives, entering the Games with incredible advantages in strength and skill.  They have been taught to believe there is no greater glory than winning the Games.

Peacekeepers:  Panem’s version of police, who work exclusively for the Capitol and patrol 24-7.

Escorts:   Often flamboyant Capitol citizens who accompany the Tributes to the Games and serve as their advocates, advisers and PR strategists.

Prep Team:   A group of stylists and make-up artists charged with making the Tributes glamorous celebrities for their public appearances and the televised Games.

Tracker Jackers:  Genetically altered wasps created in the Capitol and known for their vicious sting.

Victors:   Victors are those few who have won the Hunger Games, after which they attain riches for life, though at a terrible price.  Some Victors, such as Haymitch Abernathy, become Mentors, training Tributes from their districts.

Nightlock Berries:  A poisonous fruit that factors into Katniss’ ultimate strategy to beat the rules of the Hunger Games.


Cast Character   Filmmakers  
Jennifer Lawrence Katniss Everdeen Directed by Gary Ross
Josh Hutcherson Peeta Mellark Screenplay by Gary Ross and
Liam Hemsworth Gale Hawthorne Suzanne Collins and
Woody Harrelson Haymitch Abernathy Billy Ray
Elizabeth Banks Effie Trinket Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins
Lenny Kravitz Cinna Produced by Nina Jacobson
                              with Jon Kilik
Stanley Tucci Caesar Flickerman Executive Producers Robin Bissell
                              and Suzanne Collins
Donald Sutherland President Snow Louise Rosner-Meyer
Director of Photography Tom Stern, AFC, ASC
Wes Bentley Seneca Crane Production Designer Philip Messina
Toby Jones Claudius Templesmith Edited by Stephen Mirrione, A.C.E.
Alexander Ludwig Cato Juliette Welfling
Isabelle Fuhrman Clove Costume Designer Judianna Makovsky
Amandla Stenberg Rue Executive Music Producer T Bone Burnett
Music by James Newton Howard
Co-Executive Producer Chantal Feghali
Co-Producers Aldric La’auli Porter
Martin Cohen
Louis Phillips
Co-Producers Bryan Unkeless
Diana Alvarez
Sound Design & Supervision Lon Bender
Visual Effects Supervisor Sheena Duggal
Casting by Debra Zane, C.S.A.
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